Speakers painted a dire picture of aged care at the Bendigo community forum held as part of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
A selection of community members who had registered were invited to tell the stories of their interaction with aged care services, often on behalf of family members.
Responding to the speakers Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO said it was clear the aged care sector had failed to relate to people properly, especially those with dementia.
Presenters told of undertrained staff, a complicated system and profits being placed before people.
Others spoke of a system that was not equipped to look after people with dementia.
Some described family members whose broken bones were overlooked or ignored for days at a time.
Members of the audience had tears in their eyes while others spoke. Some who made submissions were comforted by others present whom they had just met.
Many had travelled to Bendigo from out of the area to make sure their complaints were heard.
The event was one of the first community forums held as part of the royal commission.
Ms Briggs said those present had heard a "sad, sad series of stories".
Those who did complain had not been listened to, she said.
She said it was clear even at the early stages of the royal commission that aged care legislation needed some changes.
Ms Briggs said the commission would focus on the needs of older Australians with dementia, younger people with a disability and residents of regional, rural and remote areas.
The royal commission was established in October of 2018. The Commissioners must produce an interim report by October 2019, and their final report by the end of April 2020.
Broken bones ignored
One woman at the Bendigo forum said her mother's poor experience with a central Victorian nursing home began on day one.
It ended with her mother falling four feet and breaking her shoulder when nursing home staff used a hoist to lift her out of bed, she said.
When her sister visited that day to take her mother to church, she asked what was wrong. Staff told her nothing was wrong.
It wasn't until several hours later that her brother got a phone call to say their mother was on the way to hospital.
"As far as we know there’s no incident report, never was one, [they] never filed one," the woman said.
"The hospital the ambulance said, 'Whatever you do, don’t send her back there, because we’ve had too many reports from that facility this week', so we didn’t.
"They were going to send her back, we dug our feet in and said no."
This incident was the culmination of a litany of "little odds and ends".
For instance, the woman described how staff would not bring a doctor to treat her mother when she caught a chest infection.
She ended up in hospital.
The woman attributed the poor standard of care given to her mother to the fact that the facility was privately run.
"They were more interested in profit," she said.
Another woman spoke about her mother's experience at the same central Victorian nursing home.
She described how her mother fell and broke her leg. It was five days before she was admitted to hospital, where she died six weeks later.
The woman had difficulty dealing with the aged care compliance system to make a complaint. She recounted how she was told she was making it up.
Another woman described how her mother had been left to sit in her own mess at a different central Victorian nursing home. Staff also failed to help her mother eat.
She described her mother's frequent urinary tract infections, which nursing staff often failed to notice.
She attributed her mother's eventual death from sepsis to the lack of hygiene, and a failure of staff to shower her mother.
Profit before people
That profit was placed before people in privately run nursing homes concerned many who spoke at the forum.
Many said the facilities their family were placed in had been too poorly staffed to provide care that centred on the person.
They described skeleton staffing at nights and on weekends, and an unsuitably low ratio of caring staff to patients.
Some described staff who had failed to look after patients' needs.
One woman described the experience of her sister with an intellectual disability, who began to show signs of dementia in her early 50s.
When admitted to a nursing home she was taunted by another woman who shared her room.
The woman said staff ignored her sister, failed to manage her diabetes, and did not help her eat, despite her needing the assistance.
She attributed her sister's sudden death to neglect.
The family was notified the sister was ill on a Sunday. Less than 48 hours later she died.
Suitable training needed
Many present spoke of the unqualified staff, who were not able to provide appropriate support for their parents or loved ones in the nursing homes.
Some described staff who ignored the pain of residents, or failed to properly manage illnesses. One man said his father had been limited to three incontinence pads a day.
The speakers discussed the complex needs of people with diseases like dementia, which many said were not appropriately met in the current system.
One speaker called for a register of employees within the aged-care industry, so that unsuitable attendants couldn't hop from one job to another.
Many believed six weeks training for aged care workers was not enough.
The hospital, the ambulance said, 'Whatever you do, don’t send her back there, because we’ve had too many reports from that facility this week', so we didn’t.
The crowd applauded when one speaker said aged care homes:
"Shouldn't be staffed by people who have been made to take an aged care course at Centrelink because they couldn't find a job anywhere else."
While the speaker's mother had suffered no abuse or neglect, he and his siblings had witnessed her experience boredom and a loss of connection to the community.
He called for a program to help people transition into aged care.
The speaker also called for a point of contact to proactively update families.
A complicated system
A complex system makes it difficult for elderly people to access aged-care, according to Bendigo advocate and member of Council on the Aging Ruth Hosking.
Using her experience as a former nurse, Ms Hosking meets with many Bendigo groups to explain the system for accessing aged care.
She called for an aged-care system that simplified access and provided a face-to-face service in Bendigo.
She said people must go through several stages seeking care before they meet with an actual person.
She said accessing the complex system can leave the elderly people confused.
"It adds to the anxiety of their set of circumstances, because they're disheartened and saddened," Ms Hosking said.
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